‘NOT just ABOUT MAKING tacos’

Dia de los Tacos owner Mike Walker to guest chef at Zephyr Bar dinner

Another course in Dia de los Taco owner Mike Walker’s menu is the crawfish etouffee, shown above. The etouffee is one of the first dishes Walker said he fell in love with preparing while working at the Red Hawk Bar & Grill in Ann Arbor during the mid-1990s. (Photo courtesy of Mike Walker)

MARQUETTE — Mike Walker, owner of the local food truck Dia de los Tacos, will take a break from his normal culinary routine to prepare a unique Pan-American menu as the guest chef for a dinner event Sunday and Monday at the Zephyr Bar in Marquette.

Daniel Rutz — who, along with his wife, Betsy, owns both the Zephyr Bar and Everyday Wines — said hosting guest-chef dinner events has been a part of the plan for quite some time.

“The inspiration started a while back with friends who wanted to do sort-of pop-up restaurants which are hard to do in Michigan because of various laws having to do with either alcohol or food safety,” he said.

Once the couple developed the Zephyr Bar, located at 215 S. Front St., they had the space to host a variety of gatherings, including the guest-chef dinners.

“We realized with our full kitchen and everything, this would be a space where we could do such things, so that’s always been part of the plan,” Rutz said. “We got one kicked off on New Year’s Day and the day after, and this is our second one.”

Rutz said he’s excited to have Walker chef the event and for the menu he created, which will be paired with hand-picked wine selections.

“He’s been in the culinary arena for years and has a whole lot of different styles he’s really interested in and is excellent at preparing, and we’re really excited he’s doing a Pan-American menu for us, which has been a little unique,” Rutz said. “It’s kind of tricky to pair wines with, which we love. We love having that little challenge trying to figure out how do we pair wines with these interesting foods that might have a little spice, might be light, might be heavy. Just all kinds of different flavors coming your way and … that has been really fun and fascinating.”

Walker said he’s always wanted to open a Caribbean-inspired restaurant featuring food from all over the world, and that “playing with some of those spicier elements without … overloading them” would create something new and unique for traditional dishes.

“When Dan and Marci (Krupski, Zephyr’s certified sommelier,) reached out to me and asked if I wanted to do something at Zephyr, I thought it was a great opportunity to play with some of those flavors and show people that I’m not just about making tacos,” Walker said.

His first plate is fresh ahi tuna tartare tostada with avocado butter, black sesame and fried scallions.

The second plate is a spring greens salad with honey-jalapeno-pecan vinaigrette and citrus pickled onions.

The third course is what Walker calls a dragon egg, mostly because of how it looks, but possibly because of some fiery ingredients. The dragon egg is a jalapeno packed with caramelized onions and cheese, then wrapped in homemade chorizo and served with a bright chimichurri.

Crawfish etouffee, a spicy stew of vegetables and crawfish served with rice, is the fourth plate, while the fifth course is a housemade pate served with crackers. Referencing his love of enhancing a peasant food, the housemade pate de campagne with blue cheese is Walker’s attempt at “taking modest ingredients and trying to elevate it into something beautiful.”

The sixth and final course — a bit of a hybrid between a traditional dessert and a nightcap — is agave tequila chocolate mousse.

“Honestly, I love tequila and I love chocolate and I think they really work well together,” Walker said.

Walker, a Marquette native, has worked at local restaurants as well as several downstate, including Zanzibar in Ann Arbor, and Slows BBQ and Cass Cafe both in Detroit.

“At first (working in restaurants) was just a way to supplement my dream of playing guitar in front of people,” he said. “But I found out I was actually kind of good at it and I liked it a lot.”

After moving to Portland, then back to Marquette, Walker opened up Dia de los Tacos in 2013, one of the first food trucks to begin operations in the area.

When he got back, he said it seemed like a lot of things had changed since he left Marquette in 1993, and thinks it’s exciting the area is beginning to embrace unique dining events, such as the guest-chef dinners.

“It’s just a fun way to work with other people and to get to eat different foods,” Walker said.

Rutz said he hopes the Zephyr Bar can host the events once a month during the winter, spring and fall seasons.

The Zephyr Bar will be closed to the public during the Sunday and Monday events.

Tickets for the Sunday dinner are sold out, though seats for the Monday event were still available as of earlier this week.

Tickets are $80 per person and include custom wine pairings. They can be purchased by calling Everyday Wines at 906-225-5740. Diners will be seated at 6, 6:30 and 7 p.m.

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.